From Clinton to Trump: how impeachment has changed

Emily Echevarria, Government Reporter

The last time impeachment trials for a president were underway, Blockbuster Video was in business. People talked on their Nokia cellphones about the newest *NSYNC song, used dial-up internet to instant message their friends, and worried about Y2k. America has changed drastically since Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, both culturally and within the government. 

21 years ago, the House of Representatives approved 2 articles of impeachment against Clinton. 55 of the Congressmen who voted on Clinton’s impeachment still hold office in the House today. Regarding Clinton, Senator (then Representative) Lindsey Graham said an impeachable crime would be “when you start using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people.” While Graham is now a stout supporter of President Trump, House Democrats stated that Trump “abused the power of his office for personal and political gain, at the expense of national security” in their impeachment report. 

Bill Clinton, Former President of the United States.

Clinton’s impeachment trial began with a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 1994 by Paula Jones, who worked with Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas. The Supreme Court denied Clinton his request to delay the case until after he left office, and Jones began gathering witness testimony. That’s how Monica Lewinsky ended up in the case, and Clinton began attempting to conceal their relationship through public lies. 

He denied having any sort of relationship with Lewinsky in a sworn deposition, infamously stating, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” and denied that he had ever even been alone with her. Further investigation into Lewinsky’s emails showed that Clinton had committed perjury, which was released to Congress in the Starr Report. 

Similarly to Clinton, Trump has also denied any wrongdoing, despite witness testimony and uncovered evidence. He has called the impeachment inquiry “a witch hunt,” and said he wanted “no quid pro quo.” 

Trump’s impeachment inquiry began after a whistleblower reported that Trump may have abused the presidential office by withholding aid from Ukraine if it did not agree to investigate the Bidens, his political opponents. Trump was notified of the whistleblower complaint several days before Congress, and lifted the hold on the aid. 

President Donald Trump

Trump had already faced multiple calls for impeachment, especially regarding the Mueller report and interference in the 2016 election. The House of Representatives opened an impeachment inquiry against Trump to investigate the complaints of the whistleblower, and has now moved forward with drafting formal articles of impeachment. 

Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for perjury to a grand trial by a vote of 228-206 and for obstruction of justice by a vote of 221-212. He was also tried for two other articles of impeachment, for another case of perjury and for abuse of power, but both failed in the House. When the trial moved to Senate, only 45 senators voted to convict Clinton. 67 votes are needed to reach a two-thirds majority, and so Clinton was acquitted. 

Trump’s trial is still in the early stages, as the House has just begun drafting Articles of Impeachment. The exact charges and articles will be voted on in the coming weeks, but potential candidates are abuse of power and bribery, obstruction of Congress, and obstruction of justice. 

President Clinton was a Democrat, but both chambers of Congress were controlled by Republicans at the time of his impeachment trial. What’s different for Trump is that only the House is controlled by the Democrats, while the President has more support in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Impeachment trials offer a snapshot of the composition of the government at the time, displaying the nuances of the chambers of Congress and exposing secrets from all levels of government. Apart from government, though, impeachment trials offer a glimpse into the culture of the age. 

While Clinton’s method of choice to deny allegations was public speeches or testimony in Congress, Trump prefers Twitter. For reference, Twitter wasn’t founded until 2006, almost 8 years after Clinton’s trial. Evidence in Clinton’s trial included emails from Lewinsky and a blue dress of hers with his DNA on it. Evidence in Trump’s trial has included emails, but also messages from WhatsApp and conversations on smartphones.

WhatsApp logo.

Americans in the 90’s watched the impeachment trials on their large, clunky TVs with antennas, while Americans of 2019 watch the trial on their laptops or smartphones. During Trump’s trial, the Kardashians and A$AP Rocky have been name dropped during witness testimony. 

The year Clinton was impeached was the same year Google was founded. Today, Google has a net worth of $101.8 billion, according to Forbes. The Euro didn’t debut until 1999, and the first Harry Potter book was just making its U.S. debut. 

During Clinton’s impeachment, the trial was briefly delayed during the 1998 bombing of Iraq by the U.S. and the U.K. Today, the biggest foreign entanglements in the impeachment process are Russia and Ukraine. 

While culturally much has changed in the U.S., there are multiple patterns erupting between the impeachment trials of Clinton and Trump. As the Trump trial continues to unfold, more similarities may reveal themselves in testimony, Articles of Impeachment, and final votes. 

Spinnaker will keep you updated on all impeachment news. 


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